The Bears’ defense prevented the Packers from scoring the game-winning touchdown with first-and-goal and 51 seconds left Thursday night in Green Bay.
That’s what Thanksgiving is for.
Slippery superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the ball, his snake-tongue release, his eagle vision and just eight yards to go with plenty of time.
Cheese curds, baby!
But thanks to Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller, Shea McClellin, Bryce Callahan and all the big dudes up front, the defense held — no matter how improbably — and the Bears won 17-13.
To see Rodgers play so badly against a team he usually has his way with was to be forced to re-examine who the Bears might be.
Though they’re not .500 yet, and they have just one win in the NFC North, the Bears could still make the playoffs.
Likely? No. Possible? Yes.
Just like they did by winning in Green Bay, where they were 1-6 since 2008, the Bears can rearrange your mind when you least expect it.
The defense is playing well. And then there is that other huge thing — Jay Cutler.
Just four days before beating the Packers, Cutler seemed to be regressing. He threw an interception, lost a key fumble and finished with a weak 70.4 rating in a 17-15 loss to the Broncos on Nov. 22.
Wasn’t that the Cutler we know and anticipate? Close, but no cigar?
But then comes the Packers game, and abruptly Cutler is back to the hopeful leader we dared to believe might be emerging after all these years.
He completed 19 of 31 passes for a modest 200 yards and one touchdown. But he didn’t turn the ball over, and he finished with a very good 90.8 rating. And he won.
Indeed, his passer rating marked the eighth time in the last nine games Cutler has finished above 88.3. His career average is 85.8.
You can raise that average a lot just by not throwing interceptions, and after 11 games, Cutler has thrown only six. In 2009, he had 26 interceptions. Last season, he had 18.
His interception percentage of 1.8 is the lowest of his career.
So if you stop and think about it, let your mind drift into that realm of maybe/could-be. You can almost envision Cutler as an elite quarterback, not just a middle-of-the-road guy who is never bad enough to cut or good enough to win it all.
Sure, it could be a hallucinatory daydream during an odd weekend with no Bears game. But Cutler’s two ratings before that anemic Broncos game — wins against the Chargers and Rams — were 100.5 and 151.0. Combine those with his 90.8 effort in Green Bay, and you’ve got a Hall of Famer on your hands. Hoo-ha.
Who really knows? The guy can be like a pendulum bob, rocking from sun hot to absolute zero. That Rodgers looked so miserable against the Bears — 22-for-43 for 202 yards with a touchdown, interception and that failure at the end — shows how erratic the game can be even for the best of the best.
On Sunday, Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw an interception in the end zone, and the Giants lost to Washington. Once-stellar Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw a critical end-zone pick in his team’s loss to the Vikings. Less-talented quarterback Nick Foles of the Rams threw a pass that Bengals cornerback Leon Hall intercepted and ran back for a touchdown.
How do you explain Rodgers and his lame 62.4 rating against the Bears? Decline? Or speed bump?
Cutler came to Chicago in 2009 as a single man whom no one was going to call mature. Now he’s the calm married father of three. Is that the difference? Are new coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase the difference?
The Bears have five games left, all winnable on the surface. The Vikings game, on Dec. 20 in Minneapolis, figures to be a beast. But winning out would make the Bears 10-6, if such a thing could be done. Even 9-7 might be wild-card worthy.
Cutler, as always, is the key. His talent is obvious. And maybe his head has caught up.
It’s a week to dream.
Follow me on Twitter@ricktelander.